'No' is the right vote Tuesday
Published: Sunday, September 21st, 2003
Tuesday’s vote on Amendments 1 and 2 deserve no votes from you. They are the result of hurried legislation drafted under pressure from state leaders who believe they know best how to improve New Mexico’s public schools. Yes votes would give state leaders, including the governor, control of our public schools’ $2 billion state budget, and would put a spigot into a cash-laden Land Grand Permanent Fund for the first time in state history. Anyone who’s ever opened a keg of liquid, of any kind, knows one thing: You may turn it off for a while but eventually the keg runs dry because people keep drinking till the keg runs dry. We first editorialized against these measures on Sept. 6. The message needs repeating with only four days before the special election because the friends of Amendments 1 and 2 would have you believe a no vote means you don’t believe in our children’s future and their education isn’t important if you don’t support their cause. That’s not the truth. Rejecting these amendments is merely common sense. It keeps our politicians’ hands off the funds that will pay for the educations of New Mexico’s children for generations to come. These amendments evolved not from hard legislative work to find ways to make the current system actually work. They evolved from a misguided belief that only the big guys at the Roundhouse in Santa Fe know what is best. Today, we have a state superintendent of schools who often fights the 15-member board of education, which has 10 elected members and five gubernatorial appointees. No, that’s not ideal, perhaps. And, occasionally, things grind to a halt for a few moments of government gridlock before things plod along again. But we would argue that government gridlock, at any level, isn’t always bad. It means government, for a few moments, is doing less damage to local control than if everyone was always just getting along peachy keen. Under Amendment 1, the board would be 10 elected members who only have advisory power. It could offer advice to the governor’s new education czar, but this craftily worded law leaves them without real authority over education matters, as it has now. The authority rests with the czar and his or her boss. Amendment 2 is simply bad legislation. It allows politicians to stick a spout in what since 1910 has been an untouchable source of education money for New Mexicans. Once that happens, beware the lifespan of the Land Grant Permanent Fund. California used to have a permanent fund, but no longer; now it has a fiscal crisis du jour. The New Mexico fund’s corpus comes from tax revenues from non-replenishable natural resources. Once these resources are gone, the only growth will come from interest earned. This amendment would shrink the fund significantly — some estimate in the billions of dollars — over the next few decades. Education costs won’t go down, we all know, so the only way to keep up with demand is to ensure the interest grows apace. The proponents of Amendments 1 and 2 want you to believe these are good things because supporters include Gov. Bill Richardson, many Democratic and Republican state legislators, U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, ex-governor Garry Carruthers, and many public education leaders. They don’t mention, of course, there is a lengthy lineup of amendment foes: State Land Commissioner Pat Lyons, former governor Bruce King, the state Republican Party, state Libertarian Party and the environmentalists’ Green Party. And a number of public educators also oppose the measures, especially Amendment 2. House Bill 212 hems them in. Passed during the last legislative session, it mandates a lot of expensive actions of local school districts without any funds to meet the requirements. So, if they don’t voice favor for Amendment 2 and it fails, the educators know they would have to slash local programs no matter how good the district is. In short, who are the real friends of public education? Our elected state and federal officials (past and present) who favor centralizing more power and money? Or those who favor local control on Main Street, not in Santa Fe and Washington? Your choice is clear. Vote no on Amendments 1 and 2.
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